All I can say is, I’m trying. Damn, am I trying.
Anxiety is a monster, yet to me, it’s a friend. Over the years, it’s become my best friend. It’s given me a reason to stay home and not go to that rave. It’s given me a reason to say no to drugs. It’s given me a reason to drive responsibly. Anxiety is also my worst enemy. It’s given me reason to not go to school. It’s given me reason to drink alcohol. It’s given me reason to doubt my abilities.
Anxiety is something I’ve known I’ve dealt with since I was 10. However, if you look beyond that, you’ll find anxious tendencies as early as I can remember. My anxiety attacks began (to be detrimental to my life) around the time my grandpa passed away, I was being bullied in school, and my grades were slipping. If you ask me the first time I felt an attack, I can tell you two times. I don’t remember which is first.
I’ll start with the time I wasn’t too sure what was happening. I just thought I was sick. My parents had taken me to Hollywood on one of our trips to visit my Papa Elvis (his actual name, Leon) and we ran into a huge crowd. We discovered it was the premiere of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I was about to see some really famous people! I was able to stay long enough to see Steven Spielberg and hug Frankie Muinez, but after that I began to feel sick. As we were leaving, my mom bumped into Jesse McCartney, yes my mom TOUCHED Jesse McCartney, and I realized in that moment something was wrong with me. I should be enjoying this moment, why wasn’t I? We crossed the street, and I looked back with tears in my eyes.
The most obvious moment something was wrong, was when we went on a cruise. My parents chalked it up to being sea sick, yet I was feeling sick before even stepping foot on that ship. I did not want to be there, I was afraid for my life, I was sure I would die. I remember trying to ignore it best I could, but this feeling wouldn’t go away. I’d pace around the cabin walking back and forth, back and forth. I drove my mother crazy. That night we had an orientation for the kids center, we couldn’t stay because I felt too bad.
After these moments, led to my 6th grade year where I spent the short time I was in public school either in the nurse’s office or the counselor’s. I was ashamed. I honestly felt like I would be sick every day. Some days I was allowed to stay home, but eventually the principal threatened truancy officers to come to my house, I had to go to school. Eventually, my mom withdrew me and started to homeschool me, my anxiety grew worse.
What it feels like to have an anxiety attack or panic attack is very hard for someone to understand. And in all honesty, I’m learning to be glad when people don’t understand. That means they haven’t been through the hell I’ve been through.
I’ve come to have my own unique way of knowing what is a panic attack and what is an anxiety attack. This, by no means, is the same for everyone.
For me, an anxiety attack is literally hell on earth. While I’ve had anxiety my whole life, the worst attacks were at the age of 20/21 years old. I was living in Tennessee and I did not have the understanding I so desperately needed. Here’s what the physical experience was like for many of my worst attacks:
I start out fine, then my mind will start to overthink or becomes overwhelmed. What happens next is a gradual build up. My right hand will start shaking, then start moving. Next thing I know, I’m rubbing my left arm, scratching it, or rubbing my thigh. One time, I scratched my left arm so badly I told people it was a burn. I now have a tattoo in that place to remind me it’s come our time to be strong. Shortly, I’ll start slightly leaning forward, then backwards. I’ll start to rock back and forth. My heart will start to pound, or it’ll feel like it’s not even beating. My breathing will become noticeably short, and I will begin to sigh a lot in attempt to calm myself down. Then, I’ll begin to stare, blankly, at one spot. I may start shaking all over, I may start crying. It’ll feel as though someone has their hand around my throat, just squeezing every last breath out of me.
The mental affects of an anxiety attack are even more difficult to comprehend. It’ll be like someone hit a button and suddenly your brain only functions at a child’s level. Yet, you’re still panicked so, you’re a child in an adult’s body who is completely freaking the hell out. For me, my mind shuts down. Sometimes, it makes me paralyzied. I suddenly can’t process things. Someone touches me, I think they want to hurt me. Someone cries out in frustration, I think they hate me. Basically, I can’t process love or affection without it being broken down to a basic level. All the while the hyperventilating and the being unable to process is happening, I’m still in there. My 22 year old, adult self, is still there. The only thing is, I’m tied to a chair being forced to watch myself have an attack. I know what I’m doing has me looking like a 2 year old throwing a tantrum. I know what I’m saying makes no sense. And on some level, I know that person with me cares, yet I keep yelling at them that they dont.
On the other hand, a panic attack is much the same. Usually triggered by a sudden event, like a crowded concert or, brought on by nothing at all. It happens in an instant. Suddenly, I’m hyperventilating, frozen solid, scared to death by something. It’s the kind of fear that happens in the face of great danger when you need to have fight or flight insticts. I’m stuck in the middle, every ounce of me wants to fly, fly away and go back to my safe place. My rational thoughts, the part of me being forced to watch, is yelling out to stay strong. Just face it and fight the fear. Usually, when I fight the fear and win, I feel extremely accomplished. However, if someone forced me into facing my fear and it was not my own choice, I feel betrayed. A panic attack is an anxiety attack all happening at once. Lately, though, I’ve been able to catch myself which brings on a new state of panic I’m still not used to. I can feel it, all over my body like a blanket of negative energy. Outwardly, I’m withdrawn, frozen, staring blankly. I have no other symptoms, no other signs as to panic. Usually, I can fight this away. Or I can at least tolerate it.
This is an honest photo of me, taken a few months back. This was before I took getting help seriously, before my therapy began. I had posted a photo to Instagram and my ex had commented on it. I thought I had him blocked on everything, yet he still “popped up.” I tried my best to ignore it, and I went to the grocery store. While shopping, I noticed a girl who had the same phone case that my ex had given to me. I told her about it, sure enough she got it from the same place he did in Las Vegas. I went into a panic. The world suddenly felt so small, so connected. I felt trapped as though my ex could just reappear at any given moment. I went home, was easily startled by noises like getting a text message, was unaware of the world around me, and was functioning poorly. Trying to ignore it, I got ready for bed. I ended up having an anxiety attack. Alone. In my apartment. This photo was taken for me to use on my Instagram, living.positivelywild. (I post about mental health on there.)
This photo is the beginning stages of an anxiety attack. Thankfully, I instinctively remembered my coping skills. Having something to hold onto, like a bunched napkin, drinking water (my ex taught me that one, ironically), and getting some hot decaf coffee. I played solitaire on my phone, something to get my mind focused on another task. I called friends, and talked to one of them until I calmed down. He made me laugh and forget why I was so afraid in the first place. Thank God for friends like that.
This is definitely not my most flattering photo. Yet, it speaks truth. This is the face of someone who has been anxious and on the edge of anxiety attacks all day long. I’m fed up, exhausted, and emotional. I’m chainsmoking like no other. I’m in my corner I’ve been so fond of this past week.
This was taken just a few hours ago. I had started my day off great, ready to tackle the day. By noon, I was done for. I’d given all my energy to the morning. I tried to stay going, I looked up freelance writing jobs, I texted boys I met while online dating, and I kept in contact with the woman making my new logo for this blog. I got so overwhelmed by the possibilities of the near future, I got so overwhelmed by the panic that my depression snuck in. “You’ll never be chosen, you’re not qualified, you’re a fake.” Anxiety and depression run together like Bonnie and Clyde. “I can’t focus on writing this story, I’m overwhelemed. I can’t do this because I don’t understand it. I can’t begin to make art projects to sell.” That’s what anxiety was telling me while I was sitting there thinking, “Who in the hell mentioned art projects right now? I want to write!”
On a good day, this is what my workspace must look like. If I’m to get anything accomplished and feel good about it, my anxiety makes sure I have everything in its place. Sure, this might be a sign of some OCD tendencies, but I just feel unsettled when it’s a mess. This is one of the good habits anxiety has given me, however, if depression is making an appearance then it causes problems. When depression shows itself, I don’t want to do a damn thing. Cleaning? Forget that. Not happening. Then, my anxiety feels ignored and starts telling me that I can’t be productive until I clean, that I’m a failure unless everything is in its place.
Then, there’s the part to anxiety no one wants to talk about. Sure, people are glad to hear you’re recovering. When they find out what you’re doing to recover, they grow concerned. I just love it when people are suddenly trained professionals!
I’m currently in therapy, for the fifth time in my life. I’m currently seeing a psychiatrist for the second time in my life.
At about 11 years old, I was taken to see my first psychiatrist. While, I encourage any help possible, I recommend for children seeing a therapist first. In my experience, psychiatrists are far too eager to write those perscriptions. And I knew that as a child.
My mom has suffered from fibromyalgia my entire life. It was probably the first big word I learned to write. It was among the first things I Googled, she has no idea about that. I watched my mom suffer so much from her mental and physical illnesses. To this day, she has not received help for her mental health. I grew up watching my mother lay on the sofa in pain, completely given up. I didn’t understand that. What I did understand was that at age 11, I knew for a fact I would never, EVER, let myself end up like that. I would fight like hell. And that, I did.
I was first prescribed a medication that made me violent and angry. I never tell this story, but here it goes. I had a dog back then, my best friend. Diego was an Australian Shepherd and I now have his paw print tattooed on me. That’s how much this dog had saved me. While on the first medicine, I had thoughts of wanting to stab my dog one night after dinner, just to see how it felt. I could feel God or an angel holding back my hand. In that moment, I knew I shouldn’t take this medication. I didn’t tell my parents what my thoughts were, I was so ashamed. So, in tears, I let them know I could no longer take it. I was then prescribed Xanex and never taken to see that psychiatrist again.
I spent a decade fighting this fight alone. With no help. I had the occasional therapist, I had the occasional supportive best friend. But for the most part, it was me and my illnesses. They became a burden to my family. My parents grew tired of dealing with a mentally ill child. Once I hit my teenage years, it was so easy to dismiss my episodes and attacks as teenage agnst. I couldn’t get them to see the child suffering inside of me. I would reach out on facebook, just to be told I was seeking attention. I told someone I thought was my best friend, he turned around and yelled it to all my friends. I had no safe place.
Home was a place I felt confined to. My room was a bright pink jail cell with my dreams hanging on the walls. My dad was a person I could trust, I just didn’t have that relationship with him at the time. My mom wasn’t a very understanding person. She accused me of faking it, getting attention, lying, and being a baby. There were times I was under attack by anxiety and verbal abuse at the same time. There was no safe place.
After suffering through that experience all over again, this time with the man I had loved, I sought help. I moved back to Arizona and I fought for myself. I saw my doctor and got on antidepressants. Eventually, those stopped working and I found myself a psychiatrist again. She put me on a second antidepressant and then she added a couple other things. She recommended me to the best therapist I have ever had.
My therapist specializes in anxiety, thank God. He’s not afraid to cuss in sessions, talk about how Mariah Carey is such a bitch, and to tell me straight up that guy I like ain’t ever gonna be anything more than a friend. Unless, you know, I want another unhealthy relationship. He’s given me the best advice, to just take time to gather information. Don’t make any life choices just yet.
He also recommended a book that I love dearly. The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. It’s helped me to understand and to change my ways of thinking.
This is where people start getting a little worried. I even get a little worried, too. I go through phases where I spend so much time constantly learning about anxiety that I forget there’s a world outside mental health. There are times I have 4 different notebooks dedicated to a different mental health activity. Every book you see in that photo above is to help me cope with my mental health issues. And it’s still missing 2 self-help books and maybe 3 notebooks. To those who worry, I know when I’ve gotten over my head. I know when to take a break.
My favorite is when people begin to worry about my medication. I’m on too much, I’m not on enough, let’s get me to a point when I don’t need medicine. What they don’t see is the decade long battle I fought without medicine. They don’t see the drastic change in me since beginning my medication. My anxiety doesn’t stem from one little life event. Neither does my depression, and surely not my ADD. I have a mind that works differently than yours. And that’s okay. Sometimes people with minds like mine need a little medical help so that we may function properly.
While I, and many others, appreciate your caring words, trust us. If we are actively seeking help, whether it be on our own in books or with the help of proffesional, trust us. We know what we need. If we need your help, we will ask. But also, don’t be afraid to check up on us. Mental illnesses can make you feel lonely and afraid. But there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. There is always a way to recover.
I encourage those suffering, please reach out and seek help. There is absolutely no shame, it only shows bravery that we all have hidden deep inside. Please, don’t wait 10 or more years. You deserve to live your life now.